Agency A-List 2018

Anomaly Is No. 5 on Ad Age's 2018 A-List

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Anomaly's crew (from l.): Allie Sabol, Jiah Choi, Mike Byrne, Jason DeLand, Gareth Goodall, Natasha Jakubowski and Karina Wilsher.
Anomaly's crew (from l.): Allie Sabol, Jiah Choi, Mike Byrne, Jason DeLand, Gareth Goodall, Natasha Jakubowski and Karina Wilsher. Credit: Robyn Twomey for Ad Age

Talk about an anomaly.

In a year when many clients have been cutting back and agencies are chasing business any way they can, Anomaly made a conscious decision to focus on internal development, training and culture, says Carl Johnson, co-founding partner and global CEO.

The result: The MDC agency saw revenue spike by 18 percent last year.

The industry is "going through a pretty significant shift right now," says co-founding partner and global CEO Jason DeLand, as talent flees big holding companies for the likes of Amazon, Google and Netflix, consultancies look to make an imprint in the ad world and marketers bring pricing pressures to bear on shops. "We're investing internally and thinking about the Anomaly proposition so we can be more relevant in the future."

So Anomaly created a training and development space in its New York office, promoted employees and worked to diversify talent, which paid early dividends. The shop grew existing business by 50 percent, while adding new clients including Diet Coke, PlayStation, Zico, NBC Olympics, Reese's, Smartwater and Carnival Cruise Line.

The soul-searching also resulted in the agency deciding to "take a breather" from the creative work on Apple's Beats by Dre, says Johnson, because the account is "all-inclusive" and the agency didn't want its L.A. office to burn out. (The shop is still handling global brand strategy for Beats.)

But it went full speed on Panera Bread last year, helping the brand outshine competitors and landing the chain on Ad Age's 2018 Marketers of the Year list. The shop's clean- food campaign powered Panera to 6 percent year-over-year-sales gains during the first nine months of 2017, and attracted JAB Holding Co., which acquired Panera in July for $7.2 billion.

The "100% of our food is 100% clean" initiative kicked off in January and appeared on TV, billboards, staff T-shirts and in social. The agency also created digital videos showing how children shouldn't have to imagine what their food looks like. For example, one of the kids describes a carrot perfectly, but he thinks the additive tartrazine probably looks like a tiny sea monster.

Winning more Hispanic work last year, notably Telemundo World Cup and Don Julio, was a point of pride for Anomaly as it further demonstrated its efforts to break down industry and cultural divisions. In 2016, Anomaly launched "The Last Silo," an internal initiative to integrate multicultural insights into every piece of work rather than isolate them as a separate practice.

"The entire agency has moved in that direction and not because we think it's cool or we want to talk about it at parties; it's fundamentally the right thing to do," says DeLand. "It solidifies the mission that if you want to be a change agent, you have to make change."

Anomaly continued to push hard for diversity in 2017. Half of its global CEOs already were women, but last year more than one-third of its hires were minorities, 50 percent were women and nine out of 10 of its leadership positions were filled with either a minority or a woman.

But for all its buzzy client work, when most people speak of Anomaly they reference the agency's cannabis business. Founded out of its intellectual property unit in 2016, the business has piqued the imagination of the industry and is now attracting attention from VC suitors.

Anomaly says that in 2018, the industry can expect to see two product innovations it's not yet ready to discuss from what's now called Dosist—rebranded from Hmbldt in December to better reflect that the products deliver specific doses and targeted health benefits for consumers.

As for the future, Johnson says the company's navel-gazing in 2017 has helped position the agency for the long term, so it will now concentrate more on accelerating and growing. A big part of that, says DeLand, will be to make sure Anomaly is empathetic of clients' pressures.

"The instinct of agencies has always been to transmit and not receive," he says. "What are our clients really dealing with today? What we have to do to be relevant is practice our model well, listen better and pay attention to the sheer amount of change taking place."

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